Imagining the Impossible: The Shifting Role of Utopian Thought in Civic Planning, Science Fiction, and Futures Studies

by Paul Graham Raven


Histories of futurism and/or futures studies tend to see the discipline as having its roots in the “operations research” paradigm of the mid-20th Century, which in turn emerged from what eventually became the RAND Corporation (for an exemplar see e.g. Bell, 1996). To construct futurism in such a manner is to ignore many other disciplines whose focus has also been on the development, description and analysis of imagined futures. The RAND-rooted history restricts “proper” futurism to a predominantly scientific (and frequently scientistic), positivist, quantitative and rationalist paradigm, and excludes the more qualitative work of political science, sociology, social theory, architecture and urban planning, as well as the more nakedly speculative and/or imaginative futurist practices of artists and authors. To discard this history is, I believe, to discard some important lessons about what futurism can realistically hope to achieve as regards depicting normative or “preferred” futures.

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